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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mud-slinging intensifies

Mud-slinging intensifies

Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed yesterday to have ample evidence showing that opposition leader Kem Sokha, along with other party members, has had multiple extramarital affairs, and averred that he had personally intervened after police allegedly discovered one lawmaker trying to purchase sex with an underage girl in 2011.

The salacious accusations were delivered during a speech at the inauguration of the new National Olympic Committee building, and offered almost concurrently with a press conference being held at Calmette hospital across town – where one of the supposed mistresses and her mother were recuperating after, they said, having been beaten up by bodyguards working for Sokha.

Cambodia National Rescue Party members yesterday slammed the accusations as the latest in a series of baseless and below-the-belt attempts by the ruling party to character assassinate Sokha ahead of the July 28 election.  

For nearly a week, rumours about Sokha’s alleged mistress have spread across social media and local newspapers. Hun Sen yesterday called on Sokha to meet with the woman and settle the situation amicably. But he also threatened to release information should Sokha deny involvement.

“If you [Sokha] were really strong, you would have filed a complaint against that woman to the court to defend your reputation, but if you dare not complain it means you really had a love affair with her,” Hun Sen said. “I believe that the court will find justice for you if you file a complaint.”

Forestalling the inevitable counterattack that the incident had been staged by the ruling party, Hun Sen insisted that the party would never stoop to such tricks and threatened to sue should he be accused of doing so.

He then detailed the situation over the past few days, in which the woman – Keo Sophanary – showed up at multiple CNRP events seeking $10,000 from Sokha for a heart operation and to care for the two young children she claims to have adopted with him.

“If you are really pure gold, [you would meet with her] to resolve the problem, but you ran out from the back door,” Hun Sen said.

Sophanary, 41, called reporters yesterday to meet her and her mother at Calmette Hospital where, she said, they had been sent for treatment following an assault by Sokha’s bodyguards yesterday morning in Prey Veng.

 “My mother walked to catch [Kem Sokha’s] hand [and tell him] that we are hungry and ask for food. Suddenly, he snatched his hand away and his two guards rushed in and kicked my mother in her chest and stomach and hit her several times on her body, causing blood to come from her mouth,” Sophanary said, adding that she too had been hit “lightly”.

Neither had any visible injuries and doctors and nurses refused to speak with reporters about their condition.

According to Sophanary, Sokha spotted his guards beating her mother but walked away to speak to his followers who, she claimed, surrounded and shouted obscenities at her.

“I suffered greatly when he pretended to ignore us, especially as I have been his second wife for more than 19 years. We just ask him to recognise the truth and ask for some money to treat my illnesses,” she said.

“I will sue him and his guards through the court as soon as possible with accusations of violence against women.”

Sophanary said her woes began months earlier when, after hurting her hand, Sokha refused her $50, leading her to file a court complaint seeking compensation.

Speaking with reporters yesterday for more than two hours, her story appeared increasingly full of holes. At one point, she claimed the problem with her hand was the catalyst for seeking money from Sokha in February, but later said she hadn’t injured her hand until around Khmer New Year.

A municipal court clerk, Heng Bophea, meanwhile, said he hadn’t heard of any case being filed by Sophanary.

Multiple calls to Kem Sokha went unanswered yesterday, but party spokespeople insisted the story was fabrication and Hun Sen’s comments were little more than the work of a scared politician.

Kem Monovithya, CNRP spokeswoman and Sokha’s daughter, said thousands of supporters had attended the Prey Veng event and none bore witness to any violence.

“I think what she is saying is inaccurate and said in order to cause chaos for Kem Sokha and his guards,” he said.

The party had no intention to file a complaint against her despite Hun Sen’s suggestions.

“We don’t know her background and we think she was hired to disturb,” she said.

After offering advice on how best to address the mistress situation, Hun Sen in his speech claimed he had saved an opposition leader and lawmaker from arrest and scandal after he was caught attempting to buy a 15-year-old virgin in 2011.

“Your political career would have been finished two years ago when my phone rang because [police] requested to arrest an MP and opposition leader after he deposited $500 to take a 15-year-old girl,” Hun Sen said.

“It was not staged . . . if you want to know, I will post it [on Facebook] and it will be serious if I leak out this embarrassing love affair photo of you.”

The premier said the information came not from military police or spies but directly from an opposition party insider who leaked the information.

Touch Naruth, who at the time of the alleged intervention served as Municipal Police chief, declined to comment last night.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann urged the CPP to focus their attention on the people, rather than engaging in mud-slinging with political opponents.

Whether the strategy will pay off is difficult to assess.

While Sophanary was vague about the damages she’d seek, there is a chance she could ask for him to be charged under the Adultery Law.

If it were to happen, it would make Sokha the first politician to face the charge since Prince Norodom Ranariddh in late 2006. The charge against Ranariddh, which was filed by his estranged wife, came shortly after the adultery law was passed. The law was rammed through by the CPP and Funcinpec, and popularly believed to have been enacted to bring down Ranariddh, whose newly formed eponymous party had been steadily gaining power.

If violence charges were filed, meanwhile, Sokha could be swiftly arrested, pointed out political analyst Lao Mong Hay.

Having lost immunity with all other opposition lawmakers last week, Sokha could serve a lengthy pre-trial detention whether or not evidence could stand up in trial, he said.

Even without an arrest, the claims could easily “be used to exploit and discredit Kem Sokha. This is part of a series of continuous actions to kill his personality”.

There was a chance the move could misfire, gaining more sympathy for Sokha, he said, with an equal chance the public simply might not care.

“There were such allegations against the PM some years ago with regards to Piseth Pilika’s murder,” Mong Hay said, referring to widespread rumours that the singer had been having an affair with Hun Sen.  

“That issue has died down and no one revived it.”

Additional reporting by Abby Seiff

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